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Tory deputy chair dismissed sewage crisis as ‘political football’
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Tory deputy chair dismissed sewage crisis as ‘political football’

The Conservative party deputy chair Angela Richardson called the sewage crisis a “political football” and claimed opposition parties and activists had put Tory MPs in physical danger by campaigning on the issue.

Richardson, who is standing for re-election in Guildford, where the River Wey was recently found to have 10 times the safe limit of E coli, also suggested the only reason people were talking about the problem was “because the Conservatives let everyone know it was happening”.

Speaking at a hustings held last week by Zero Carbon Guildford, Richardson was asked about her party’s record on sewage spills. “The reason we’re all talking about this is because the Conservatives let everyone know it was happening,” she said. “If you go and have a look at the manifestos in 2019 you will not find anything about water quality. It is a very, very convenient hobby horse to jump on and attack Conservative MPs for voting against things that would not work.”

Portrait of Angela RichardsonView image in fullscreen

She added that activists putting up blue plaques around the town criticising her record on the issue in 2021 “resulted in a police helicopter above my house and police sniffer dogs through my house”.

“I was in danger because of the actions taken by political parties. It is no laughing matter,” she went on. “So my suggestion to everybody is to actually look at what we’re trying to do, working together and not turning this into a political football that’s actually dangerous.”

In March it was revealed that raw sewage was discharged into waterways for 3.6m hours in 2023 by England’s privatised water firms, more than double the figure in 2022.

The issue has become a theme of this election, as opposition parties take aim at ministers’ failure to get to grips with the crisis.

Research by the Rivers Trust found that sewage was spilled for 1,372 hours in the Guildford constituency last year, and recent water testing by local campaigners found E coli in the river last month at nearly 10 times the safe rate in government standards.

Richardson’s comments have caused outrage among campaigners. “Every single river in England is now polluted and one of the largest sources of that pollution is the water industry, so for her to even suggest this is some sort of hobby horse or convenient political issue is wrong,” said the environmental campaigner Feargal Sharkey.

“It is clearly an act of desperation that instead of taking responsibility for the environmental decimation caused by their own incompetence they are now trying to shift blame away and point the finger at others. It is the dying, decaying voice of a discredited government.”

The campaign group Surfers Against Sewage said: “Sewage pollution has become a core election issue because people love being in and around water but they are getting sick when they do it. We have been campaigning on this issue for nearly 35 years, because we surfers, swimmers and water users have been getting sick when we do what we love.

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“We don’t want anybody to feel in danger and do not condone any actions that threaten any individuals,” the spokesperson said. “But as campaigners and indeed as citizens in a democracy it is our duty to hold elected representatives to account for the decisions they have made in a proportionate and effective manner.”

Richardson told the Observer her support for government legislation on the issue showed her “commitment to tackle storm overflows, which are now fully monitored thanks to this Conservative government”. She claimed that opposition parties and activists have wrongly “allowed the public to believe that we voted to put sewage into our waterways”.

She confirmed the police response to the Observer, saying it occurred on 30 October 2021 – 15 days after the murder of MP David Amess – and came after the police received “credible intelligence that a protest would target a local MP’s home”.

She added: “While my property was then deemed safe, no elected representative of any party should feel their safety is under threat in order to represent their constituents.” Surrey Police confirmed that it responded to a report of a suspicious incident that day with a helicopter and dog units, but that “the situation was thoroughly investigated, and officers found no cause for concern”.

Source: theguardian.com